Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Old North

Bill West has challenged us to find poems or songs that refer to the areas our ancestors lived in his Second Great American Local Poem and Song Genealogy Challenge.  I thought about Rusyn folk songs or hymns, or one of the great folk songs heard in Cocke County that Mildred Haun cataloged in the 1930s.

Then I remembered this poem written by my husband's grandfather. I knew it was the one for this challenge. His aunt gave us a copy when we were visiting for my mother-in-law's 90th birthday earlier this fall. I especially love it at this time of year, as our own leaves fly by.

by W. Meredith Smith

Hark! the winter winds are sighing
  Round the memory-haunted tower,
E'en the evergreen is dying.
Hark! the winter winds are sighing
And the last leaves now are flying
  From the treetop and the bower.
Hark! the winter winds are sighing
  Round the memory-haunted tower.

William Meredith Smith (1877-1962) graduated from Georgetown University in 1900. After attending medical school in St. Louis he spent his life practicing medicine in Frederick, Maryland. This poem was published in 1927 in the Georgetown Anthology (Philadelphia: Dorrance & Co.). Old North, one of the oldest buildings on the campus, was built in 1794. George Washington spoke from its steps in 1797 and it marks the north side of the original quadrangle. The clock tower rises over Healy Hall on the east side. It was built shortly before Smith graduated and remains the most identifiable structure at the University.

The tower obviously loomed large in Smith's memory. It was not there when his cousins attended Georgetown College in the 1830s and 40s, nor when his father attended before the Civil War, though Old North was. As one of the few Catholic schools in the area it was a beacon for Smith's family. No school has had more significance in his family's history. At least six members attended Georgetown - including his father, son, and grandson. 

My own father graduated from Georgetown's law school which was a key reason I enrolled there. The photographs were taken September 2, 1979 when William Meredith Smith's grandson and I were married at Dahlgren Chapel in the quadrangle. Old North is the building behind us as we kissed. 


  1. Oh, I can't believe this! I graduated from SLL in '76 and from the graduate school in '77. Another point of connection!

  2. We're going to have to compare notes, Greta, cause we were there at the same time... Very small world.

  3. What a lovely poem! I loved the history you have shared with us about your husband's grandfather, indeed all of the graduates from your family of Georgetown. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

  4. Very apropos poem as the wind has been howling outside tonight.We always think of the ties between a family and a town or city, but there
    are ties to institutions like schools as well.

    Thanks for sharing this, and thanks for taking part in the Challenge!

  5. I love the poem but even more wonderful is the connection of the poem to your family history and to yours and your husband's personal histories. Wonderful! Thanks, too, for the history surrounding the building.


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